Bodyweight exercises – they may be “old school” but they’re still the best!

An article on the BBC News website caught my attention this weekend, “Short bursts of intense exercise ‘better for weight loss‘”. The article went on to quote Dr Michael Moseley (whose articles I often feature in this blog), “In 2012, I tested three lots of 20-second high intensity workouts on an exercise bike, three times a week. My insulin sensitivity improved by 24%. In the programme, we again saw very impressive results with younger, unfit people …”

Committed Metafit fans will know that just three sessions of this HIIT workout a week can effect similar impressive changes to your body over a short space of time, using just simple core and bodyweight exercises. So what is it about these that make them so effective?

What are bodyweight exercises?

They are strength training exercises that use your own body’s weight to provide resistance against gravity. Bodyweight exercises can enhance a range of abilities including strength, power, endurance, speed, flexibility, coordination and balance. Exercises that use pushing, pulling, squatting, bending, twisting and balancing, such as press ups, burpees and squat thrusts are common bodyweight exercises. Those of you who are old enough to remember the “Superstars” programmes of the 70s and 80s will no doubt remember the infamous gym challenges involving squat thrusts and the parallel bar dips – two examples of tough but effective bodyweight exercises.

Did you know? One of the best things about bodyweight exercises is that you can do them in your own home as no other equipment is required.

What are the best bodyweight exercises?

There are many variations on standard bodyweight exercises, many of which we use in our metafit workouts, often introducing a jump or lateral movement to make the move more plyometric and harder, but the core group of exercises remains the same. Here’s “Mr Metafit” himself demonstrating just how some of these should be performed:

Squats and squat jumps. This exercise works all of the muscles in the lower body including the quads, glutes and hamstrings. It also provides an extra kick for the core as you need your deep abdominal muscles and back to keep your torso upright and perform this exercise correctly.

Press-ups. Working all the muscles in the lower body including the quads, glutes and hamstrings whilst also providing an extra kick for your core strength. Metafit press-ups use the full range of movement – your chest should touch the floor as shown below. It’s perfectly acceptable to drop to your knees to perform this move, just ensure you are still using the full range of movement to be effective.

Burpees. Yes, our favourite exercise! Combining cardio and strength into one, the burpee is a complex, total-body exercise that will work your upper and lower body at the same time with a strong focus on the core. (That’s why we love them so much!). Adding a tuck jump at the end makes the move more plyometric and even tougher!

Squat thrusts. Similar in many ways to a shortened burpee without the final jump phase, this tough and oft hated exercise (I wonder why?!) is a good all-body move, concentrating primarily on your hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. This exercise is often poorly performed so it’s important to work on correcting your technique to ensure you gain the maximum benefit.

Lunges and lunge jumps. Again, often incorrectly performed, a true lunge should take the back leg to a 90° position, just off the floor. It targets the quadriceps and the glutes most intensely, but also hits the hamstrings, calves and core. Technique is important here as poorly performed lunges can lead to injury. Stepping lunges are just as beneficial if you prefer to take out the jump or if you have knee issues.

Mountain climbers. This exercise combines the difficulty of a plank with deep core stabilisation and alternating knee drives towards your chest. It benefits muscular and cardiovascular fitness by increasing strength, flexibility and blood circulation. Mountain climbers require you to engage your upper arm muscles, as well as your core and your legs.

Extended plank hold and plank variation. One of the best exercises for core conditioning, improving posture, supporting your back, enhancing overall movement and co-ordination and toning your abdominals. In addition to standard planks in Metafit, we also use “hot hands” and “pomel jumps” as great and effective variations on this core exercise.

Hot hands. With a strong core, you should be able to perform these as still and as SLOWLY as possible, almost like you are in slow-motion. This exercise is actually much tougher than it looks, and if your core isn’t strong you will find you tend to rotate throughout the body, particularly the hips, when you lift your hands – this is what you must aim to try and avoid.

Important Footnote:
It goes without saying that good technique is imperative to complete all these exercises well - it will not only help to prevent any injury or issues developing but also ensure you gain the maximum benefit from the exercise. There is no substitution for performing these exercises under the guidance of a qualified instructor - it's almost impossible for a beginner to be aware of their technique without proper instruction and correction.

Want to find out more and experience the whole range of bodyweight exercises? Why not come and join us for a Metafit session and discover how just 25 minutes can change the way you think about exercise? It could also change your life!

Fibre – the latest “superfood”

Fibre – yes I know, it’s not the most exciting thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and has found there are huge health benefits when we eat more.

  • It reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.
  • It helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
  • It’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.
  • It makes us feel fuller and can help digestion and prevent constipation.

The researchers for this study, based at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day. “The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Professor John Cummings, has told BBC News.

The NHS recommends we should increase our fibre intake to 30g a day as part of a healthy balanced diet. So what does 30g of fibre actually mean?

To increase your fibre intake you could:

  • Choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as plain wholewheat biscuits (like Weetabix) or plain shredded whole grain (like Shredded wheat), or porridge as oats are also a good source of fibre.
  • Go for wholemeal or granary breads, or higher fibre white bread, and choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with their skins on, such as a baked potato or boiled new potatoes.
  • Add pulses and legumes such as beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, soups, curries and salads.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries.
  • Have some fresh or dried fruit, or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert. Because dried fruit is sticky, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s better if it is only eaten as part of a meal, rather than as a between-meal snack.
  • For snacks, try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes and unsalted nuts or seeds.

Did you know? A small handful of nuts can have up to 3g of fibre. Always choose unsalted nuts, such as plain almonds, without any added sugars.

Find out more:

Aerobic vs anaerobic training – what’s the difference?

As the festive season is well and truly upon us, it goes without saying that most of us, even with the best of intentions, will end up over-indulging on food and drink. So in anticipation of the new years’ “rush” I thought I’d finish the year with a fitness training article. Here’s the lowdown on the body’s aerobic and anaerobic energy systems – what they are, how they work and which is best way to workout for you. Merry Christmas everyone!

Aerobic and anaerobic are simply terms used to describe how the cells within the body produce energy and refer to energy systems. Every movement we make requires energy to be created and there are three main ways that this is done: one with oxygen – aerobic, and two without oxygen – anaerobic.

Aerobic

Aerobic refers to the body producing energy with the use of oxygen. Continuous steady state exercise is performed aerobically. When it comes to aerobic exercise, you would usually think of spending anywhere from 20-90 minutes performing an exercise – this could be on an exercise bike, treadmill or cross trainer or even simply walking and jogging.

The aerobic energy system utilises fats, carbohydrates and sometimes proteins to produce adenosine triphosphate (known as ATP – see my earlier blog post on EPOC here) for energy use. It produces far more ATP than either of the anaerobic energy systems but at a much slower rate, therefore it cannot fuel intense exercise (such as HIIT) that demands the fast production of ATP.

Aerobic exercise – walking/jogging

Anaerobic

Anaerobic refers to the body producing energy without oxygen. This is typically exercise that is performed at a higher intensity. There are two ways that the body can produce energy anaerobically:

  • The ATP-PC system, which consists of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and phosphocreatine (PC). This provides immediate energy through the breakdown of these stored high energy phosphates.  If this energy system is ‘fully stocked’ it will provide energy for maximal intensity short duration exercise for around 10-15 seconds. It provides you with the most power because it produces ATP more quickly than any other system. Because of this it fuels all very high intensity activities but it burns out very quickly. (See also my earlier blog post on EPOC here).
  • The Anaerobic Glycolytic system produces a lot of power, but not quite as much or as quickly as the ATP-PC system.  However it has larger fuel supplies (essentially a bigger fuel tank) and doesn’t burn all its fuel as quickly as the ATP-PC system, nor does it fatigue as quickly. It is the anaerobic glycolytic system that is associated with the feeling of burning in your muscles due to the build-up of lactate and other metabolites.
Anaerobic exercise – high intensity box jumps

Which is the best?

During exercise, energy will be derived from all three of these systems, but the emphasis will change depending on the intensity of the exercise relative to your fitness levels.

Aerobic vs anaerobic training refers to which energy system you are trying to improve during your training session - its structure and intensity will be very different depending on which one you are trying to improve.

Aerobic training will typically fall in the range of 60 – 80% of your estimated maximum heart rate and can be performed continuously for prolonged periods of time. Anaerobic training will fall between 80 – 90% of your estimated maximum heart rate.

  • Aerobic training is good for building endurance and improving your cardiovascular and respiratory function. This means that your heart and lungs become stronger and more efficient, enabling you to train harder and longer as your fitness levels improve.
  • Anaerobic training is performed at a harder intensity than aerobic exercise, typically between 80 – 90% of your maximum heart rate. It is used by athletes in non-endurance sports to promote strength, speed and power and by body builders to build muscle mass. Muscle energy systems trained using anaerobic exercise develop differently compared to aerobic exercise, leading to greater performance in short duration high intensity activities. It is a great way of really improving your fitness levels once a baseline aerobic level of fitness is achieved.

Have a wonderful Christmas, try not to eat too much, and look forward to a fit and healthy you in the new year!

Are you REALLY doing HIIT?

Love love love this article from Metafit Australia and simply had to share! There are many people who seem to think that back to back so-called High Intensity workouts are the best way to up their fitness and strength, but that’s simply not the case. Discover why the short sharp intense Metafit workout is one of the best ways to deliver a true HIIT workout …

Most people who claim they do high-intensity interval training often focus more on the ‘interval’ part than on the ‘high intensity’ part. Let’s get one thing straight – there’s nothing wrong with regular interval training. You do the exercise for a period of time, then rest and repeat the exercise again, thus forming intervals that are great for your heart health, circulation, and overall conditioning. But doing exercises with high intensity is where the magic happens.

Most people are drawn to HIIT because it’s short and it’s a type of cardio that doesn’t require any equipment at all to have a good total body workout. The question is, how do you know you’re doing HIIT right? Well doing HIIT on your own is very difficult and most people will never achieve the right intensity so a much more effective way is it under the guidance of a qualified Metafit coach or personal trainer.

What qualifies as high intensity?

After each interval, you should be out of breath, drenched, and thinking to yourself “Thank God it’s rest time, I couldn’t go on any longer”. Your body will treat that rest time as a quick recovery, giving you the chance to steady your breath and gather just enough energy to perform the next interval. To illustrate how hard you have to work in those short intervals (that usually last anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds), it’s worth noting that some researchers doubt that the general population could successfully adapt to the extreme nature of HIIT. However, in Metafit we challenge that belief. The general population can absolutely achieve the right intensity (90% + MHR) with expert coaching, correct programming (exercises, work to rest, duration) and determination.

Don’t underestimate the rest periods

This is such an important thing to note because people usually think that if they push themselves harder and harder with no breaks whatsoever, they will somehow achieve better results. Wrong! The rest periods are what makes HIIT work! In order to really perform at your maximum intensity, you have to give your body a chance to recover! If you just go on doing something so extreme for long, your body will slowly decrease the energy levels, which can lead to serious injuries and won’t help your fitness goals in the long run. The whole point of the rest period is to allow your body to tap into the energy supplies it has, and ‘produce’ the amount of energy you need for your next interval. Without that break, you’re not giving your body a chance to regroup and prepare itself for the hard part. Remember, it’s called high-intensity interval training, and not just high-intensity training for a reason. By going through those high cardio – low cardio intervals, you’re making the most out of your workout, whether the goal is to lose fat, increase explosiveness, or simply improve your general health.

Longer is not necessarily better

Now that we’ve established that your workout should be rough and leave you breathless and sweaty, there’s another aspect of this exercise regimen you should take into account when planning your workout – it’s length. If you’re really making your body go through intense energy bursts where you’re giving it your all, it’s impossible to perform those intervals for longer periods of time. There isn’t a professional athlete in the world that could or would want to do HIIT for an hour. You’ll come across various 45, 60, or even 80-minute ‘HIIT’ workouts on the internet that deserve a healthy amount of suspicion, to say the least.

The ideal length you should go for is anywhere between 6 and 25 minutes, no more. If you do it right, you’ll give your body an excellent, fat-torching routine that will leave you feeling energised and oh so alive! The easiest way to choose the optimal length is to simply listen to your body and find what feels good for you.

Which exercises to choose

It’s not only the way you do it but what you do that counts. You should aim for bodyweight, explosive, full body moves that simultaneously engage most of the main muscle groups in your body to get an optimal result. Giving the limiting length of the intervals, it’s hard to imagine an average person being completely out of breath by the time they finish 20 seconds of squat pulses, triceps dips or crunches. Try doing burpees, squat jumps and sprints movements and you’ll see that you’ll pretty much max out at about 20 seconds or so.

You might think that your typical HIIT workout focuses too much on the lower body, but don’t be fooled; one, quads and glutes are the largest muscles in the body, therefore they will burn the most calories when being trained, and two, in order to do a high-intensity burpee or jumping lunge the right way, you need to activate your core to keep you balanced and safe. Don’t worry, you’ll be doing a total body routine, without even noticing it or focusing on specific abs or arm exercises. That’s the beauty of HIIT.

Less is MORE

Falling in love with HIIT is easy. It’s quick, effective, and the results start to show fast – really, really fast. You might love it so much, in fact, that you’ll find yourself trying to fit the fourth or even fifth HIIT in your week, in order to achieve even faster results. Don’t do it! Aim for 2 or 3 HIIT workouts per week, max. Even just one quality HIIT workout per week will do wonders for your athletic performance. Your body needs time to recover properly; you should cherish it and work with it, not against it. Feel free to do some weight lifting, yoga, pilates or light, steady-paced cardio on your off-days. This will compliment your HIIT routine perfectly, and keep you safe from injuries and stress. If you overwork your body, it will likely recover slower than usual, causing you to have less energy to begin with, so you won’t be able to make your intervals intense and brutal, which will render your whole HIIT routine useless, not to mention the probable muscle tears and Achilles tendinitis that often go along with lower performance.

In the end, HIIT will make you appreciate what your body can do as well as boost your overall health and wellbeing, as long as you do it right. Ready, set, HIIT! 

Thanks to Metafit Australia.

Metafit is an absolute gem of a workout and is one of my all-time favourites. It's simply one of the quickest ways to visibly improve your fitness and strength. I am fully certified to teach both the standard Metafit workout and also the circuits based MetaPWR workout.

The impact of sleep deprivation on your body

A growing body of research suggests that there’s a link between how much people sleep and how much they weigh. If you’re not sleeping enough, the effects could be more significant than just dark circles under your eyes. Here we look at the surprising fact of how your size and your sleep are closely linked.

The rise of obesity over the last few decades is paralleled by significant reductions in the length of time we spend asleep.

At the same time, a large number of studies have reported associations between impaired sleep and the likelihood of developing obesity or diseases such as type 2 diabetes. (Note: the act of sleeping less does not in itself make you fat – after a few disturbed nights your body won’t automatically have created fat!).

We’re not talking about a cause/effect link here. We’re talking correlation. As the number of people getting less sleep has risen, so the number of people at risk of life-threatening metabolic and cardiovascular diseases has risen too. The reason for this correlation may lie in the effects that poor or less sleep may have on your behaviour and physiology. It’s these effects that can contribute to weight gain.

Inactivity – if you’re feeling lethargic and tired, you’re less likely to exercise and more likely to take shortcuts like using the lift rather than the stairs. This decreases the amount of calories you’re burning, which has a direct effect on your weight.

Mood fluctuations sleep is vital to regulating your mood. Less sleep could see you happy one moment and feeling low the next. Low mood can trigger emotional or ‘comfort’ eating, when our bodies crave high fat, high sugar foods. When eaten, these foods trigger the pleasure response in your brain, and we’re hardwired to crave them in times of distress.

Reduced leptin levels – less of the hormone that tells you you’re full could see you overeating without realising it.

Increased grehlin levels – more of the hormone that tells you you’re hungry will have you seeking out more food and snacks, even if you’ve consumed the right amount of food for you that day.

Recent analysis conducted by King’s College London reviewed dozens of small studies involving sleep and appetite. It showed that, although not everyone is affected in the same way, on average getting less than seven hours of sleep a night led to people eating significantly more overall.

A bad night’s sleep disrupts the two key hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin and this combination leaves us feeling physically hungrier, causing us to eat more. Studies also suggest that when we’re exposed to food while sleep deprived, there is increased activation in areas of the brain associated with reward. This can lead to us choosing foods that are higher in sugar and fat, rather than selecting healthy options.

All of this can help to explain why, in the long term, there’s a strong connection between poor sleep, weight gain and health problems like type 2 diabetes. The simple solution is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. For adults, 7-8 hours of sleep per night is associated with the lowest risk of incidence of cardiovascular diseases.

Find out more:

Will going vegan make you healthier?

The popularity of veganism has really taken off. More than four times as many people are now opting to cut animal products out of their diet than they were four years ago. Across Britain, people are spending more money on vegan products, and plant-based diets are trending online. With major supermarkets catching on and stocking up on vegan-friendly food – and even restaurants starting to offer vegan dishes and menus for their customers, we were wondering how easy is it to go vegan and stay healthy?

A recent episode of the BBC TV programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” posed this very same question, and set Cambridge Neuroscience Research Associate Dr Giles Yeo the task of going vegan for one month.

Specific aspects of Giles’s health were assessed by Dr Mellor, a dietitian and senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University before and after his month of being vegan. We measured his cholesterol, body fat, weight, and his levels of iron, folate, zinc and vitamins A, E, D and B12. Dr Mellor also gave Giles a list of foods to eat to stay healthy and avoid becoming deficient in key nutrients.

The results

After one month on a vegan diet, Dr Yeo lost 4 kg and his body fat dropped by 2%. His BMI improved by 6% and his cholesterol fell by 12%. Thanks to Dr Mellor’s food suggestions, he didn’t become deficient in any key nutrients. However it’s more difficult to be so nutritionally diligent in the longer term and vegans can become deficient in nutrients you’d normally get from animal-based foods, such as iron and vitamin B12.

Essential nutrients for vegans

There are certain essential nutrients that we normally get from animal-based foods that vegans need to replace with alternative foods or supplements.

  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important for our bone health. It is produced in our body when sunlight hits our skin and is also present in a few animal products. Vegans might want to consider taking a supplement, but beware that not all of them are vegan-friendly. Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, whereas some sources of vitamin D3 derive from sheep’s wool.
  • Vitamin B12 – We need vitamin B12 to keep our blood healthy. It is not produced by plants, but there are plenty of vegan products on the market, such as milks, spreads and yeast products, which are fortified with it.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – These are essential for brain function and are found in oily fish. Other good sources are flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and soy beans.
  • Calcium – While calcium is synonymous with dairy, there are plenty of vegan sources too. Tofu commonly contains calcium and there are calcium-fortified alternatives to cow’s milk available. Other good sources include green vegetables such as kale, pak choi, okra and spring greens, as well as almonds, chia seeds and dried figs.
  • Iodine – Iodine deficiency is not uncommon in the UK, even in non-vegans, particularly amongst young women. In the UK, cow’s milk is our main source of iodine, and the non-dairy alternatives, like almond drinks, have much lower levels. You can get iodine from seaweed (though the amounts are unpredictable) but you may need to take a supplement.
  • Protein – Some vegans worry that they aren’t getting enough protein, a nutrient people tend to associate with meat. However, eating a balanced diet with plenty of plant-based protein sources should provide all that you need. Particular foods to try and include are tofu, soy, beans and pulses.
  • Iron – Cutting out meat can also affect your iron levels – red meat contains a form of iron that is easy for our body to absorb, whereas the iron that you get in fruit and veg is less readily available. One solution is to accompany iron-rich vegan foods with a rich source of vitamin C, like orange juice, which helps to make the iron more absorbable.

And what does my favourite chef say about veganism?

Many argue that we should all be making a conscious effort to reduce consumption of animals and animal products for the sake of our health and for the planet. Vegan or not, a diet high in fruit and veg and plant-based food is a good starting point for a healthy lifestyle.

You can find out more about this experiment on the Trust Me I’m a Doctor website here >>

Men should exercise BEFORE eating and women AFTER, to burn the most fat.

Could this really be true? Well a laboratory test carried out by Dr Adam Collins, Senior Tutor in Nutrition at the University of Surrey indicates that the amount of fat we burn changes based on whether we eat before or after exercise – and this appears to be different for men and women.

Our bodies use two main types of fuel: fat and carbohydrates – and early indications from Dr Collins’s study suggest that we could increase the amount of fat we burn just by timing when we eat with when we exercise. I was interested to discover more – like many others I had thought that exercising on an empty stomach was the way to go, but now that school of thought appears to be changing.

Michael Moseley’s team from the BBC programme “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” worked with Dr Collins on an experiment to see if it might be possible to change our eating habits around exercise to increase the amount of fat our bodies are burning throughout the day. Here are the results of that experiment:

Experiment 1: The laboratory test

Adam’s initial experiment had shown that for young men, eating carbohydrates (CHO) before exercise significantly decreased the amount of fat their bodies were burning for the 3 hours afterwards, whilst they were resting (n=10, p = 0.02, Wilcoxon matched pair tests, repeated measures 2-way ANOVA, multiple t-tests).

When he did a similar experiment with both men and women, he and his team found that whilst the men still burned less fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising (n=7, p<0.05), the women burned MORE fat if they had eaten carbohydrates before exercising (n=8, p<0.05).

* Significantly different between genders: p≤0.05;
† Significantly different between treatments: p≤0.05
Total fat (g) oxidation between treatments, and genders (Exercise + Recovery).

This experiment was repeated on a single brother and sister pair, Jess and Josh, and got similar results.

Jess and Josh results:

Experiment 2: The long term effect

In order to see whether this effect measured in the laboratory could actually be significant in the real world, “Trust Me I’m a Doctor” teamed up with Adam and his research group to recruit 30 volunteers to take part in a longer term experiment.

Thirteen men and seventeen women who did not normally do a lot of exercise we chosen and for four weeks they all took part in three supervised classes a week: high intensity training, Zumba and Spin classes.

All participants had a drink both before and after each exercise class, but one of their drinks was a placebo (with no calories), whilst the other was a carefully calorie-controlled hit of carbohydrate. No one knew who was taking which drink or when.

  • Seven of the men were taking the carbohydrate drink before exercising, whilst six were taking it afterwards.
  • Seven of the women were taking the carbohydrate drink before exercising, whilst ten were taking it afterwards.

At the beginning and end of the experiment, they were tested on how much fat they were burning whilst at rest (as well as a range of other measures such as weight, waist circumference and blood sugar/fat levels).

The Results

Whilst all the women ended up burning slightly more fat at the end of the experiment, those who were taking carbohydrates before their exercise were burning more.

Difference between men and women:
Meanwhile, all the men were actually burning slightly less fat at the end of the experiment, but those who were taking carbohydrates after their exercise were better off. We saw no significant differences in their weights or waist circumference, but their blood sugar levels changed in the same way as their fat burning.
Difference between men and women:

How it works

Men and women burn fat and carbohydrate in different ways.

Men are very much ‘carbohydrate burners’ – if as a man you eat carbohydrate then your body is going to burn it rather than fat. Just giving the men carbohydrate at any time in our experiment made them burn a bit less fat! However, given that we all have to eat (and carbohydrate is an important part of our food), it is better for men to eat after exercising if they want to burn fat. This is because after exercise, men will use that carbohydrate to replace the carbohydrate in their muscles rather than burn it for fuel and will continue to burn fat instead.

For women, the results clearly show that eating before they exercise is better than eating after if they want to burn fat. Women’s bodies tend to burn fat more easily than men’s, and are not fuelled so much by carbohydrate. Moreover, women are much better at conserving carbohydrate during exercise. So when women eat carbohydrate soon after exercise, this is effectively overloading them with fuel, and interferes with the body’s ability to burn fat.

The amount of carbohydrate in our tests is probably the equivalent of a piece of toast, or a small bowl of cereal – and for men ‘not eating before exercise’ means about 90 minutes before exercise, and for women ‘not eating after exercise’ similarly means for about 90 minutes after.

Although our study was quite small, put together with the evidence from the laboratory experiments, it does seem worth us all making that simple adjustment to when we eat in order to maximise the amount of fat that our bodies burn throughout the day.

So what do you think? These studies are always interesting and I would like to see more work in this area as there does seem to be a lot of conflicting advice available on the internet today.

Super Clean Super Foods

This is my ultimate go-to nutritional guide to superfoods, telling you all you need to know to power up your plate! Keeping active and eating a super food packed balanced diet maximises your chances of achieving a healthy body. Try to build a varied diet from wholesome nutritious foods from each of these five key groups:

1. Fruit and vegetables

Try and eat at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit each day. Research shows that people who eat a diet based on plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables tend to have a lower incidence of age related diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, dementia and cataracts. Fruit and vegetables contain a powerful arsenal of disease-fighting compounds including vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. No single fruit or vegetable contains all the nutrients you need so it’s important to include a wide variety.

Citrus fruits are rich in immune boosting vitamin C.
  • Nitrates in beetroot improve the blood flow to your brain
  • Vitamins and phytochemicals in raspberries help protect your eyes
  • Tenderstem broccoli contains cancer-fighting phytochemicals
Vitamins and phytochemicals in raspberries help to protect your eyes.

2. Starchy carbohydrates

These come in many different guises and many of the carbohydrates we choose have been stripped of much of their fibre and nutrients. Refining wheat to produce white flour removes over half of the B vitamins, 90% of the vitamin E and almost all the fibre content. Choose unrefined carbohydrates such as wholegrains, beans and pulses, and aim to eat three portions of these every day.

Choose wholegrains instead of refined carbohydrates
  • A type of fibre found in barley called beta-glucan helps to reduce “bad”  cholesterol (LDL – low density lipoprotein).

3. Calcium-rich foods

Calcium is essential for building strong bones and teeth and is particularly important whilst bones are still growing. Aim for at least two portions of calcium each day – milk, yoghurt and dairy products are a good source of calcium as well as providing additional nutrients such as vitamins A and B2.

Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium.

If you don’t eat dairy foods then try almonds, fortified soya or nut milk, sesame seeds, kale, broccoli and bak choy.

Broccoli contains phytochemicals and is also a good source of calcium.

4. Healthy proteins

Protein should ideally provide 15-20% of your calorie intake each day. Protein is an essential nutrient, responsible for multiple functions in your body, including building tissue, cells and muscle, as well as making hormones and anti-bodies. Choose healthier proteins such as oily fish, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds – in addition to the protein, they also contain other health promoting nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.

Black beans are packed with protein and gut-healthy fibre.
  • Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines are rich in omega-3 and help power your brain

5. Healthy fats

Fat is essential for your health, but most of us consume far too much of it, and the wrong sort. Eat no more than 30% of your calories each day from fat, including no more than 11% from saturated fat. Wherever possible, avoid saturated fats and trans-fats as these increase levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. Instead opt for unsaturated fats such as olive oil and foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish.

Avocados, oily fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds are all healthy fats.

A note about Reference Intakes (RI)

Nutritional needs vary depending on sex, size, age and activity levels so use this chart as a general guide only. The chart shows the Reference Intakes (RI) or daily amounts recommended for an average, moderately active adult to achieve a healthy, balanced diet for maintaining rather than losing or gaining weight.

The RIs for fat, saturates, sugars and salt are all maximum amounts, while those for carbs and protein are figures you should aim to meet each day. There is no RI for fibre, although health experts suggest we have 30g a day.

My thanks to Super Clean Super Foods by Fiona Hunter & Caroline Bretherton.

Why do some people put on weight? It could all be down to your gut!

When it comes to nutrition there is so much information out there that it can be easy to become bamboozled. In the last few years, food science has come on in leaps and bounds and we’re only now beginning to really fully understand how our bodies work and process food.

We all know that eating a nutritionally balanced diet is good for us. But even when sticking to a so-called good diet, some of us can still struggle to lose those stubborn pounds. To make matters worse, there are some people who are lucky enough to be able to eat pretty much what they want, and never seem to put on weight! Ah, if only! But could there be a reason why this is?

I was very excited to read the following article from the BBC TV programme “Trust me I’m a doctor”. Here is the article:

Dr Saleyha Ahsan from the BBC’s “Trust me I’m a doctor” series travelled to Israel to take part in a study, being carried out by the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot and led by Professor Eran Segal and Dr Eran Elinav. And it is producing some very exciting results!

THE STUDY

  • Recruited nearly 1000 people so far to take part;
  • Each participant has provided detailed health and medical data;
  • Participants take part in a week-long close examination;
  • This looks at how their blood sugar levels react to different foods.

During the week, participants’ blood sugar levels are measured constantly by a glucometer placed under the skin. Their sleep and activity levels are monitored by a wrist-band, and they are given an app to record their mood, feelings, sleep and exercise regimes and what they eat. Throughout the week, their meals are planned – some are given to them as standard foods that everyone tries. Others they are allowed to choose, but they have to weigh it all accurately, and record it in precise detail. Each person in the study has also given a stool sample. From this, the researchers analyse the gut bacteria living inside each person. Our gut bacteria are unique to us – it is almost like a ‘fingerprint’ of a person – but, crucially, they can change.

THE FINDINGS

The researchers at the Institute have found several startling things during their study:

1. Every person reacts differently to different foods.
This has been a real surprise, as the textbooks have long suggested that some foods (eg. white bread) give all of us a sudden blood sugar ‘spike’ (which is bad for our health – increasing our risk of Type 2 diabetes and obesity), whilst it has been thought that other foods (such as wholegrain rice) give all of us less of a ‘spike’. This has recently been called ‘high GI’ or ‘low GI’ (for foods that give people a spike or not, respectively). However, the standard group of people on whom these foods have been tested has long been 10 – and now with 1000 people’s data it is clear that everyone is very different.

2. The team have been able to make firm links between a person’s individual response to food, and to the gut bacteria that they have.
Using their huge amounts of data from the participants, the team have come up with a computer algorithm that can now take a person’s individual gut bacteria composition, and from it, predict how their blood sugar levels will react to a whole range of foods. They have done a study to test the accuracy of this algorithm, and it does indeed appear to predict ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods for different individuals based only on their gut bacteria. This goes to show how important our gut bacteria are in regulating our responses to food, and indeed for our health.

3. The team have carried out a small study in which 25 people had a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ diet predicted for each of them by the algorithm – with very encouraging results.
The participants then ate only the ‘good’ for one week and then the ‘bad’ for another – and weren’t told which was which (and because our reactions are so individual, some foods were ‘good’ for one person and ‘bad’ for another). Not only did their blood sugar react as predicted to the different foods, but the team saw changes in the gut bacteria of the volunteers over just the week. Although the roles of different groups of bacteria in our health is still very much uncertain, the changes that they saw during the week of ‘good’ food appeared to be beneficial.

This suggests that we may not only be able to personalise our diets to be healthy for each of us individually, but that we might be able to change our responses to food.

THE FUTURE

Professor Segal and Dr Elinav hope to be able to make the results of their work available to everyone, worldwide. They hope that they will in the future be able to take stool samples, sent through the post, and provide a personalised diet plan in return – listing foods which are predicted to give that person an unhealthy blood sugar spike, and those which are likely to maintain more stable, healthy blood sugar levels.

These will, of course, have to be eaten within a normally balanced diet – it doesn’t mean that if chocolate turns out to be on your ‘good food’ list, you can live on it and be healthy! Nonetheless, the fact that ‘good’ foods for particular individuals usually seem to include some that people very much like, it appears that these personalised diets are much easier for people to adopt than traditional restrictive ones.

The team are also now studying the longer-term effects of diet on gut bacteria. It is possible that as the gut bacteria change in response to the diet (which happens within days or weeks), that the diet could then be modified, or relaxed.

Exciting stuff! If you are interested in finding out more about this study, please check out the following links:

The Personalised Nutrition Project
Trust me, I’m a doctor